Vel­vet Negroni: the music’s all that matters

Having shrugged off cosigns from the likes of Justin Vernon and GOOD Music and signed to 4AD, the Minneapolis artist is creating something he truly believes in.

Jere­my Nutz­man has spent most of his life find­ing a cre­ative per­sona that fits. Now that he’s got one, fig­ur­ing out the com­pli­cat­ed route to artis­tic grat­i­fi­ca­tion is his sole focus. 

I meet with the artist now known as Vel­vet Negroni in a bougie east Lon­don eaterie. You could describe him as an hon­est interviewee.“I won’t read this,” he’ll admit, short­ly before our con­ver­sa­tion ends. Whether I’m being praised or torn to shreds, either way I’m gonna try my best not to acknowl­edge its exis­tence. It isn’t nec­es­sary to move forward.”

Con­sid­er­ing how long he’s been toil­ing at his craft, it’s no sur­prise that he doesn’t think crit­i­cism should get in the way of the music he’s mak­ing. An outsider’s approval means noth­ing to him. Free from the bur­den of expec­ta­tion, he’s cre­at­ing bound­less R&B that flirts with obscu­ri­ty while still offer­ing lyri­cal intimacy. 

I feel like I’m begin­ning to reach more of a bal­ance between the bull­shit [and] what I believe to be good poetry”

I feel like I’m begin­ning to reach more of a bal­ance between the bull­shit [and] what I believe to be good poet­ry,” he tells me, strug­gling to make pro­longed eye con­tact. I sense this is more out of awk­ward­ness than an attempt to be aloof. He’s ten­ta­tive, book­end­ing his sen­tences with thought­ful paus­es. It’s a bet­ter reflec­tion of me with­out being sar­cas­tic or tongue-in-cheek… more bare.”

Nutzman’s had three dif­fer­ent alias­es dur­ing his time on the Min­neapo­lis DIY scene, but has nev­er released music under his birth name. Those monikers – first Spy­der Bay­bie Raw Dog, then Pony Bwoy and now Vel­vet Negroni, he says, are all shields”.

Born in Min­neapo­lis and adopt­ed by a fam­i­ly of Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians as an infant, Jeremy’s life path was altered right from the start. His innate cre­ative streak man­i­fest­ed inside the rigid con­fines of clas­si­cal piano train­ing and com­pet­i­tive fig­ure skat­ing – a strait-laced path to a pious exis­tence his par­ents set him on. It was only when he was 18, when he dropped out of his art degree at a near­by church col­lege (“I wasn’t into the idea of a suit telling me how to draw”), that his future start­ed to make sense. The dank smell of rebel­lious met­al, rock and rap was ema­nat­ing through Min­neapo­lis and into his bed­room win­dow. He left, and from there I just kept on hop­ping couch­es and play­ing metal.”

Those con­flict­ing influ­ences have led Jere­my to mess with R&B and rap’s com­mer­cial prop­er­ties: his songs float on tra­di­tion­al synths and basslines, but are inter­po­lat­ed with groans and creaks. In a sea of same­ness he’s a tru­ly orig­i­nal tal­ent; although at this point he’s an old hat at orig­i­nal­i­ty, hav­ing made art out­side of the indus­try’ (still an alien con­cept to him) for the best part of a decade. 

Now signed to 4AD, that unpre­dictable DIY approach is built into the fab­ric of his impend­ing debut LP Neon Brown: the prod­uct of six months of end­less exchanges with pro­duc­ers PSY­MUN (who co-pro­duced Future and Juice WRLD’s track Fine Chi­na) and Elliott Kozel, two fel­low Min­neapo­lis natives. It’s a fast turn­around for a full length record but doesn’t sound like it. The lead sin­gle Con­fet­ti came in a moment of com­plete cre­ative clar­i­ty, he says. The song is har­nessed by a metronome-tight rhythm while Vel­vet runs riot over it with his eso­teric lyrics: I won’t glide over love / Lev­i­tate before the freefall / Set sail every­day”. Mean­while, the pangs of love that imbue FEEL LET are built on bor­rowed melodies from Adi­na Howard’s Freak Like Me, which are lay­ered over a bluesy bass and errat­ic steel drums. If it sounds com­plex and unpre­dictable, that’s because it is. It’s also excellent. 

Nutz­man found the sketch that graces Neon Browns cov­er, of an amor­phous nude fig­ure eat­ing its own hands, years ago in a trash can. A friend had dis­posed of it but he saw its beau­ty. As for its title? It’s right and wrong. It doesn’t make sense, but it could,” Jere­my explains, aware now of how elu­sive that sounds. It can­cels itself out. It’s noth­ing and every­thing.” I ask him to elab­o­rate on the descrip­tor he gives the record in his press release, where he refers to Neon Brown as the pre­lude to the sec­ond act of a life lived on bor­rowed time’. He paus­es for a sec­ond as if mus­ter­ing up a wor­thy answer, before shak­ing his head. No,” he retorts. That’s there.”

Con­sid­er­ing its strange flit­ting between cacoph­o­nous and har­mo­nious, it’s no sur­prise that fel­low left-field cre­ator Justin Ver­non counts him­self as a fan of Vel­vet Negroni’s work, invit­ing him on a Bon Iver track last year. Mean­while. Kanye and Kid Cudi – exposed to the track through Ver­non in a stu­dio ses­sion – sam­pled his track Waves on the open­ing track of the Kids See Ghosts record. Lat­er this year, he’ll head on tour with Tame Impala. They’re impres­sive co-signs, but you can tell he’s been asked about them count­less times before. It means a lot to me in the moment, but it can be more of an annoy­ance than any­thing after that. It helps for peo­ple in this day and age to see name drops.”

Those coastal indus­try bub­bles in NYC and LA mean lit­tle to a man who’s so tied to his home city. Min­neapo­lis might har­bour both bad mem­o­ries and good, but it’s a key rea­son why the Vel­vet Negroni sound isn’t cloud­ed by bull­shit. After Lon­don, he’s head­ing to Paris for a cou­ple of days – for press, he shrugs – but he’s hop­ing to find the time to catch up with an old friend of his there, Macaulay Culkin, before head­ing home to Min­neapo­lis. He talks about it in the way most out­siders do of their hometowns. 

Is he hap­py there? I’m sat­is­fied,” he says, polite­ly cor­rect­ing me one last time. Hap­pi­ness is far more sen­tient than Vel­vet Negroni would like it to be, but you get the impres­sion he has some­thing more impor­tant on his mind right now. That’s the music.

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